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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Gender differences in hemispheric asymmetry for face processing

Alice M Proverbio12*, Valentina Brignone1, Silvia Matarazzo1, Marzia Del Zotto12 and Alberto Zani2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Psychology, University of Milano-Bicocca, Viale dell'Innovazione 10, 20126, Milan, Italy

2 Institute of Bioimaging and Molecular Physiology (CNR), Via Fratelli Cervi 93, 20090, Milano-Segrate, Italy

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BMC Neuroscience 2006, 7:44  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-7-44

Published: 8 June 2006

Abstract

Background

Current cognitive neuroscience models predict a right-hemispheric dominance for face processing in humans. However, neuroimaging and electromagnetic data in the literature provide conflicting evidence of a right-sided brain asymmetry for decoding the structural properties of faces. The purpose of this study was to investigate whether this inconsistency might be due to gender differences in hemispheric asymmetry.

Results

In this study, event-related brain potentials (ERPs) were recorded in 40 healthy, strictly right-handed individuals (20 women and 20 men) while they observed infants' faces expressing a variety of emotions. Early face-sensitive P1 and N1 responses to neutral vs. affective expressions were measured over the occipital/temporal cortices, and the responses were analyzed according to viewer gender. Along with a strong right hemispheric dominance for men, the results showed a lack of asymmetry for face processing in the amplitude of the occipito-temporal N1 response in women to both neutral and affective faces.

Conclusion

Men showed an asymmetric functioning of visual cortex while decoding faces and expressions, whereas women showed a more bilateral functioning. These results indicate the importance of gender effects in the lateralization of the occipito-temporal response during the processing of face identity, structure, familiarity, or affective content.